Friendly Furniture

September 23, 2010  
Filed under Aging Parents

Dear Savvy Senior,
I’m in the market for some senior-friendly furniture and could use some help. My husband and I have arthritis and have gotten to the point where getting up from a seated position – especially from our living room couch and recliners – has become a real chore. Can you recommend some good cushioned lift chairs or furniture accessories that can help us?
— Can’t Get Up

Dear Can’t,
The task of sitting down and/or getting up from soft cushioned furniture is a common problem for many seniors who struggle with arthritis pain and mobility issues. Fortunately there are a variety of home furnishing products and accessories that can help give you a boost.

Having been around for nearly 30 years now “electric recliner lift chairs” are one of the most popular types of senior-friendly furniture on the market today. While they look just like regular recliner chairs, lift recliners come with a built-in motor that actually raises and lowers the entire chair, which makes sitting down and getting up much easier.

How to Choose
With literally dozens of different types and styles of lift recliners to choose from, here are some key points to help you cut through all the options and select a good fit for you and your husband.
Chair size: The recliner needs to fit the person setting in it, so your body size (height and weight), or your husband’s, will actually determine the size of chair you need.

Reclining options: Aside from the lifting system, the degree in which the chair reclines is your choice too. Most lift recliners are sold as either two-position, three-position or infinite-position lift chairs. The two-position chairs recline only to about 45 degrees which makes them ideal for watching TV or reading. But if you plan to nap, you’ll probably want a three-position or infinite-position chair that reclines almost completely horizontally.

Fabric and features: You’ll also need to choose the type of fabric and color you want the chair to be, or if you want any extra features like built-in heating or massage elements, or a wall hugging chair which is great if you’re tight on space.

Where to Shop
While there are many companies that make lift recliners – such as Med-Lift, NexIdea, Health Circle, Catnapper, Berkline, Franklin and even La-Z-Boy – Pride Mobility (pridemobility.com) and Golden Technologies (goldentech.com) have been around the longest and have the best reputation. With prices typically ranging between $600 and $2,000, you can find lift recliners at many medical supply stores and online. You’ll also need to know that Medicare provides some help purchasing a lift chair. They cover the lift mechanism portion, which equates to around $300 towards your purchase.

If, however, the lift recliners don’t appeal to you, here are several other products on the market that might.
Risedale chairs: These are open-legged, wing back chairs that are very different from lift recliners because only the seat cushion lifts instead of the whole chair. Made by Uplift Technologies (up-lift.com, 800-387-0896), the Risedale retails for around $500. Uplift also sells a variety of portable seat lifts that can work with any chair in your home or you can take it when you travel.

Couch Cane: Made by Standers, this nifty tool acts as a support handle that makes sitting and standing much easier and it works on both couches and recliners. The base fits directly under the feet of the furniture for sturdy support. Couch Canes sell for around $100 and are sold online at medical equipment sites like medexsupply.com (888-433-2300) and activeforever.com (800-377-8033).

Furniture risers: Increasing the height of your existing furniture a few inches is another inexpensive way to make it more accessible. Furniture risers typically range from 2 to 5 inches in height, are made of heavy duty plastic or wood, and are inserted on the base of the legs or supports of your furniture. Costs range from a few dollars up to $50 and can be purchased at Walmart and Target, or online at amazon.com and mobilityhome.com.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

Maximize Your Home’s Energy Efficiency

September 23, 2010  
Filed under Home & Garden

By DiAnne Crown, CNS

Air infiltration — that’s what energy efficiency experts call those chilly drafts across the floor in the winter and the extra load of hot, humid air on the air conditioner in the summer. And it’s expensive. Here’s what to do to tighten your home before temperatures fall this year.

“The first thing to do is easy and free,” says energy efficiency expert Scott Hanauer. “Make sure your windows are shut during heating and cooling seasons. And locked. This is especially important with double-hung windows. The upper sash slides down, and you can’t see it behind the curtains or mini blinds. Locking creates tighter, better weatherstripping.”

Second, caulk around windows and door trim boards, inside and outside, with an acrylic latex caulk, Hanauer says, and make sure weatherstripping around doors is tight. If you can see light around a closed door on a sunny day, he says, you need new or better weatherstripping between the door and frame.

Builder Keith Moore provides weatherization services for homeowners and adds that gray, cracked rubber is another sign the weatherstripping should be replaced. “Over time, that rubber can turn hard,” Moore says.
After those initial steps, consider scheduling an energy audit by the local utility company or a private weatherization contractor. The audit should include a blower door test, which Hanauer likens to a large whole-house fan inside an adjustable frame. “It depressurizes the house, so air from the outside is sucked in through any openings,” he says. The test shows leaks in windows and doors, as well as exterior wall outlets and switches, plumbing chases, attic accesses, water spigots, electric lines, places where round pipes pass through square holes and more.

Then check your home’s insulation, particularly in the attic. “If you poke your head into the attic and you can see the floor joists, you don’t have enough. You should be able to see a sea of insulation,” Hanauer says.
Insulation is measured by R-value. The higher the R-value the less heat transfer there is in winter and summer. How much is enough varies by region, but in general, Hanauer says, more is better.

Moore agrees. “Adding insulation in the attic is where you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck,” he says. “That’s where most of your heat goes out. You can do it yourself with batt insulation, but hiring it done is still relatively inexpensive.”

The price will depend on the size of the house, roof pitch, attic access and any other special conditions. Even in the most complex situation, Moore says, the cost is only about $1 to $1.50 per square foot for materials and labor. “It’s not a huge expense,” he says.

Moore cautions not to put any insulation, whether batt or blown-in, over old knob and tube wiring. “This is a fire hazard,” he says.

Homeowners also may consider replacing loose windows and doors. “In some older homes, the doors are wood, the thresholds are wood and the weatherstripping is outdated, which allows air and bugs to come through,” Moore says. “We put in a new metal door with a hard plastic thermal break between the two metal sheets and metal weatherstripping with a neoprene seal between the door and jamb.”

For those evaluating replacement windows, Hanauer suggests casement windows, which crank out, rather than double-hung windows, which slide up and down. “Casements have a compression fit that creates less friction and wear on the weatherstripping and provide a tighter seal,” he says. Windows should be double- or triple-pane with a low-emission, or low-e, reflective coating.

However, Hanauer says, the decision to replace windows is more about personal preference than it is about saving money. “From a strict energy efficiency standpoint, it’s not a good investment,” he says. “It’s about a 20-year payback (in energy savings). But there are noneconomic factors, such as ease of operability and cleaning, improved appearance and comfort.”

Don’t know where to start? “Start at the upper levels and work your way down,” Hanauer says. “That’s the most efficient way to control not just the draft blowing across your easy chair but all air infiltration and air stratification (having a hot upstairs and cold downstairs).”

But “don’t get obsessive trying to seal your house completely,” he adds. The entire volume of air in a home can be exchanged with fresh air every three to five hours and still be considered tight. Some new construction is so tight that the air becomes stale, and humidity buildup encourages mold growth.

“Do what you can, and don’t worry about what you can’t,” Hanauer says. Just closing those little holes and cracks is a big step in the right direction. “Homeowners can save as much as 20 percent in energy costs. And you’ll be more comfortable.”

For a description of insulating materials, recommendations by ZIP code, information on federal tax credits and more, visit http://www1.eere.energy.gov/consumer/tips/insulation.html and http://www.EnergyStar.gov.

Cooking Up New Ideas in Modern Kitchen Design

September 23, 2010  
Filed under Home & Garden

By Mark J. Donovan, CNS

The kitchen is the command center of every home. It is the focal point, where people gather to eat, relax and socialize. Consequently, kitchens take a lot of use and abuse, and that’s why kitchen makeovers are so high on homeowners’ remodeling lists. In addition to the use and abuse, kitchen cabinetry, appliances and flooring typically go out of style every 10 years or so. Because of all those factors, a kitchen remodeling project is one of the best home improvement investments you can make.

That being said, a kitchen makeover is not cheap. The typical kitchen remodeling project can set you back $15,000 to $20,000, depending upon the size of your kitchen and the kitchen remodeling materials you select.

There are numerous kitchen makeover ideas that you can employ to transform your old and outdated kitchen into a modern and contemporary one. Some are quite expensive; others are not so expensive. Listed below are some key kitchen remodeling ideas that you may want to consider in your kitchen makeover project.

Kitchen Cabinets
At the heart of every kitchen makeover project is a solid and well-thought-out kitchen cabinet design. The kitchen cabinet design specifies items such as the size and location of cabinets, the kitchen work area and where kitchen appliances will reside. In addition, it defines your unique tastes and style based on the types of cabinetry and features you choose. For example, do you prefer a modern or country kitchen style?

When developing your kitchen cabinet design, also consider the inclusion of a kitchen island, possibly one with a sink. Kitchen islands make great workspace areas and often can double as quick-eating areas.
Whatever particular kitchen cabinet design style you choose, always make sure that your new kitchen cabinets will be functional, as functionality is just as important as style.

Kitchen Flooring
Kitchen flooring is another major kitchen makeover idea to consider. As part of every new kitchen remodeling design, you should evaluate the myriad kitchen flooring choices. Vinyl, wood, laminate and ceramic tile all have their pros and cons. Vinyl is the most economical and practical kitchen flooring choice, and it is available in a plethora of patterns and styles. Wood and laminate flooring are a notch up in looks, however water is always a concern when it comes to wood flooring. Ceramic tile is probably your most expensive option, but it is quite durable. However, a ceramic tile floor is quite expensive to install, and the risk of breaking a tile is always high in a kitchen. Ceramic tiles also can be a bit cold on the feet.

Kitchen Appliances
Stainless steel kitchen appliances are what most homeowners and homebuyers prefer today. Consequently, including stainless steel kitchen appliances in your kitchen remodeling plans is very wise.

Stainless steel kitchen appliances can cost a small fortune for certain brand names. There are, however, some affordable options from certain household appliance manufacturers.

Kitchen Faucets
Another excellent kitchen makeover idea is to include a large and multifunctional kitchen faucet. Consider selecting a kitchen faucet that can provide both a steady stream of water and a shower spray. Also, make sure your kitchen faucet solution includes a soap dispenser.

Kitchen Lighting
Abundant kitchen lighting is paramount in every kitchen makeover project. Every kitchen should include natural lighting, as well as electrical appliance lighting. If there is currently no window in your kitchen, consider installing one if at all possible. In regard to electrical appliance lighting, consider overhead work lighting, as well as general room lighting. In addition, consider kitchen lighting in the kitchen cabinet soffits, as well as under the top kitchen cabinets.

Though an electrician may be necessary, including copious amounts of kitchen lighting in your kitchen makeover plans will pay off in spades when you sell your home.

Kitchen Window Treatments
One way to add color and panache to a kitchen is in your selection of kitchen window treatments. Choose bright colors so light easily enters the kitchen.

Kitchen Wall Coverings
Kitchen wall coverings can be as simple as a fresh coat of paint over the walls. However, for more style and texture, you may want to consider adding chair rail and wallpaper to the walls.

Another kitchen makeover idea to consider when thinking about the kitchen walls is to include paintings, pictures and other types of wall hangings with a kitchen theme.

With this list of kitchen makeover ideas, you should be able to develop a unique set of kitchen remodeling plans that will ensure a beautiful and contemporary kitchen.

Mark J. Donovan’s website is http://www.HomeAdditionPlus.com.

Improve Your Entire Home’s Water Quality

September 23, 2010  
Filed under Health & Wellness

Whole-House Water Filters Purify Everything Flowing Out of Your Pipes

By Mark J. Donovan, CNS

Americans are lucky enough to have the luxury of clean drinking water. It flows into our homes without our even noticing until we receive our monthly water bill. But even though our tap water is drinkable, we shouldn’t ignore that it still may contain unhealthy elements. It is wise to have your water tested periodically, even if you think it looks and smells fine. Americans too often assume their tap water is free from pollutants because it is coming from a municipal water supply or a deep artesian well, however both of these occasionally are found to contain dangerous chemicals, parasite cysts and coliform bacteria. In some cases, the water may be safe to drink but have a funny taste or odor. Other times the water may taste and smell fine but contain iron, rust and sedimentary material. This floating matter not only looks unappetizing at the bottom of a glass of water but also can turn your dishwater a rust color and clog your faucets.

Fortunately, there are a variety of water filters that can address most of the issues found in tap water. Which you choose to purchase depends on the results of your water tests and your specific household needs.

Water Filter Types
Water filters come in a variety of types and styles to address varying tap water issues. There are faucet-mounted water filters, under-sink water filters, countertop water filters, reverse-osmosis water filters, activated carbon filter water filters, ultraviolet water filters and whole-house water filters. Whole-house water filters are probably the best solution because they address the needs of the entire home.Whole-house water filters have multiple benefits. They not only can remove a wide array of pollutants but also are ideal for removing iron, rust, sedimentary particles and some heavy metals. Some models also can support the removal of chlorine, hydrogen sulfide, parasite cysts and volatile organic compounds.

The benefits of expelling these unwanted elements and purifying your home’s water go far beyond just health and taste. In fact, a good whole-house water filter can pay for itself. Sediment particles wear away at your appliances and clog your faucets. By purifying your home’s water, your dishwasher and washing machine will become more efficient and have longer lives. Your shower experience will become more enjoyable, as well. The shower head won’t become clogged, so you can enjoy the full force of your home’s water pressure. Purchasing a whole-house water filter also will enable you to save money on your grocery bills. Many people don’t realize that water itself is a cleaning agent and that soap exists merely to facilitate water’s cleaning. If only pure and clean water is coming into your home, you won’t need nearly as much soap to wash your dishes, clothes, hair and body. A filter that keeps your family safe, keeps your water tasting great and keeps your bills low is a filter worth installing.

When selecting a whole-house water filter, check out what type of contaminants different ones can remove and the maximum flow rate they can support. Keep in mind that the more water that can flow through the filter the less efficient it is at removing pollutants.

Whole-house filters are installed in the main water supply line into the home and can cost between $40 and $2,000. Typically, a plumber is required for the installation of a whole-house water filter because the main water supply line in the home needs to be cut. That being said, the above-average do-it-yourself homeowner also can do the job.

In regard to maintenance, a water filter’s replacement cartridge is fairly inexpensive and easy to replace. The process of changing out a cartridge basically involves shutting off the valve on the water filter itself, twisting off the lower base unit, cleaning the base unit, swapping in a new cartridge, reattaching the base unit to the top portion of the filter, and turning the valve back on.

Voilà! Pure water is flowing again.

Mark J. Donovan’s website is http://www.HomeAdditionPlus.com.

Red Hot Fall Color Palette

September 23, 2010  
Filed under Fashion

Life getting you down ? Just open your closet and throw some color on. How about Lipstick Red? Purple Orchid? Living Coral? Blue Lagoon? These are the new hues touted by the color authorities at Pantone, a color forecasting company, and by fashion designers hoping that we’ll all get in a much brighter mood when fall rolls around.

Consumers may still be watching their budgets, but we all get the urge to splurge every once in a while, according to Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute. “Building on the color palette from spring,” she says, “this season’s offerings include innovative takes on fundamental basics, as well as transporting lively colors that conjure images of travel and adventure, whether real or aspirational.”
So even if you’re an armchair fashion traveler, you can still indulge in the allure of vibrant colors that look like they’ve sprung up from an exotic travel poster. This fall, red is one of the most dramatic colors that designers are falling for.

The hot color always adds a spark to black and is the perfect foil for the popular leopard prints and camel tones this fall. When worn head-to-toe, it can be stunning.

“Red plays an important role in our fall and holiday collections,” says special occasion designer Sherri Hill, whose namesake collection this fall features her famous “shift shaper” sheath dresses.

“When dressing up and wanting to make a fashion statement, nothing evokes more attention than a red dress or gown,” Hill adds. “When women wear red, they feel attractive and sexually desirable. All eyes go to the woman in the red dress when she enters the room. Red is a strong color that inspires confidence and inner strength and makes the wearer feel positive and good about herself.”

Hill has incorporated a red palette into her collections because she feels the color not only works well with many different skin tones and hair colors, but it also evokes power — and “nothing is more attractive than a dominant, powerful women in a beautifully cut and designed dress.”

Other designers are getting into the rush on red this fall, too. Tommy Hilfiger, famous for his signature “Americana” classic collegiate style, says that “pops of color, especially tomato red, really plays off gray to create a dynamic look.”

Yigal Azrouel, whose favorite fall color is vermillion red, says that “it screams against stark cool neutrals.” His must-have item for your closet is a vermillion cocoon coat that “dramatically envelopes the body.”

Christophe Lemaire at Lacoste uses what he calls a “vibrant and crisp colorful cocktail of red-orange, nugget gold, virtual pink and raspberry radiance” in his go-to item of the season — a cotton and wool bolero jacket that combines all these vibrant hues.

In Thuy Diep’s fall collection, a dahlia-red, paisley wrap dress is sparked with Swarovski crystals. “Rich vibrant colors raise our optimism and mood,” says Diep. “The new fashion color rule for 2010 is that there are no rules.”

Designer Nanette Lepore agrees that happy colors are more important now than ever. “Incorporating a few fresh colors into your wardrobe can revitalize and provide an array of potential new color combinations to make getting dressed exciting,” she says.

“Of course, we are conscious of the economic conditions, but that does not deter us from continuing to put out luxurious, beautiful clothing,” says designer Rachel Roy. “My new fashion color rule for 2010? Have fun with color always!”

And even if you’re on a bare-bones budget this fall, splurge a little and put some color on. You can always buy a new tube of red lipstick!

Sharon Mosley is a former fashion editor and executive director of the Fashion Editors and Reporters Association.

Surprisingly Unhealthy Foods

September 23, 2010  
Filed under Food

What You Should Choose Instead

By Susan Burke March,
MS, RD, LD/N, CDE

What to eat? Seems like a simple question, but it’s one that can vex even the most savvy eater, especially when trying to make sense of food packaging. How many times do you browse the grocery aisles trying to discern the “best” pasta, cereal or bread? Most concerned healthy eaters know the obvious, like there is no fruit in “Froot Loops.” But what about “grown up foods”? You know, those labeled as “whole grain,” “all natural” or “healthy”?

Food Label Foolishness
There is much confusion for consumers who rely on the front of food packages to make their choices. Although “natural” should mean no artificial colors or ingredients, the term “natural” isn’t a guarantee that the product contains whole wheat or any fruits or vegetables at all.

Cut through the confusion and read the package from back to front – read the ingredient label first! Heed these tips to shop smart:

• Natural: In your quest to find foods that nourish, do you purchase foods labeled “100% Natural,” “Healthy,” or “No Artificial Ingredients” without actually reading the ingredients? We’re at a disadvantage compared with countries such as Canada where labeling laws are more stringent and specific. The USDA says that the “natural” claim means that the food does not contain any artificial ingredients, coloring ingredients, or chemical preservatives, and, in the case of meat and poultry, is minimally processed. However, the meat may be full of “natural flavors” and “naturally raised” doesn’t mean the animal isn’t raised on a factory farm. It also doesn’t mean that the animal has access to the outdoors. A can of iced tea can read “100% Natural Tea,” however the ingredients include filtered water, high fructose corn syrup and lemon flavoring. That’s not natural to me.

• Multi-grain: From breads to crackers to hot and cold cereals, “multi-grain” does not mean whole grain…it means just about nothing at all, except that the product contains an undefined amount of different types of grains. What you really want to look for is “100% whole grain,” so you’re assured that you’re getting all of the good nutrition from that grain’s kernel — the nutrients, including vitamin E and magnesium, and fiber. Some packages distract the consumer by touting impressive amounts of vitamins and minerals, even fiber. But, be a savvy consumer and look at the ingredients first if you’re interested in buying products without artificial colorings, flavors, excessive sugar and salt. Be sure the first ingredient is “100% whole,” either wheat or other grain, and remember, a teaspoon of sugar equals 4 grams. To know what you’re eating, read the serving size first, then the calories per serving, then how much fiber and finally how much sugar per serving.

• Low Glycemic Index: Where “low carb” left off, the “low glycemic index” has taken over. The glycemic index ranks foods based on the how quickly they elevate blood sugar levels compared to the same quantity of a reference food (pure glucose or white bread). In addition to not considering the amount of food usually eaten, the GI doesn’t include the amount of fiber in the food. A medium baked potato has a higher GI (85) than a Snickers bar (55), and who’d say a candy bar is better than a baked potato? The quantity of food represented by that ranking is always 50 grams, regardless of how much food (volume) it takes to eat 50 grams; it’s easy to eat 50 carbohydrate grams of cookies (7 small cookies) but much tougher to eat 50 carbohydrate grams of carrots (5 cups of carrots) in one sitting! In the context of “healthy,” ignore the glycemic index and focus on whole foods, with fiber, in portions that are right for you.

• Organic: The truth is, if it’s sugar, it’s sugarorganic or not, high fructose corn syrup, honey, cane sugar or white, maple syrup, or agave nectarall, nutritive sweeteners have approximately 16-20 calories per teaspoon, and negligible nutrition. They are all empty calories. I took a cruise through the breakfast aisle, and found “organic toaster pastries” but compared to conventional toaster pastries, there’s just as much sugar, and making it “organic” doesn’t make it lower in calories or higher in fiber. If you’re looking for a healthy breakfast that’s convenient and portable, choose a toaster waffle with whole grains.

• “Free” foods: Yes, we want to be free to eat what we like, and for many, that means fake foods that imitate sweets and desserts. However, foods labeled “low fat” or “fat free” does not make it calorie free. Manufacturers add sugar to add texture and bulk lost from removing fat. A “sugar free” cookie may have a similar calorie count compared to the regular, too. So, the most important thing to look at when you’re reading a label is not the calories, fat or sugar, but always, it’s the serving size that must be read first.

Note: “Fat Free” means less than a half a gram of fat per serving, “low fat” or “light” means less than 3 grams of fat per serving, and “reduced fat” means 25 percent less than the reference food. Mayonnaise illustrates this perfectly. The “reference,” original mayo, has 10 grams of fat per one tablespoon serving. The reduced fat version has 25 percent less fat, or 7.5 grams of fat per serving — still not a low fat food. But choose a “low fat” or “light” version, and you know it has 3 grams or less of fat per serving, a better choice.

Buyer beware! Shop armed with information to help you read beyond the packaging and make weight-wise choices. And, of course, always shop with a list, never shop when you’re hungry, and read the ingredient label first. These three smart strategies help you keep the focus on healthy, good-for-you foods that taste good, too.
Making weight control second nature means shopping purposefully, refusing to be swayed by advertising, and taking the time to enjoy the flavor of real food. Your payoff will be better taste, improved nutrition and good health.

HUD Shares Plans for New Reverse Mortgage Option

September 23, 2010  
Filed under Money

The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) announced recently that it intends to make modifications to its Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) product, a reverse mortgage loan insured by the federal government, to make it more attractive and cost effective for older home owners seeking to tap their home equity to cover living expenses and health care costs, according to the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association.

An HECM is a reverse mortgage that is insured by the FHA. It is designed to enable homeowners 62 years or older to borrow against the equity in their home without having to make monthly payments as is required with a traditional “forward” mortgage or home equity loan. Under a reverse mortgage, funds are advanced to the borrower and interest accrues, but the outstanding balance is not due until the last borrower leaves the home, sells or passes away. If the balance due upon settlement of the loan exceeds the value of the home, the FHA insurance covers the difference. HECM borrowers may draw down funds as a lump sum at loan origination, establish a line of credit or request fixed monthly payments for as long as they continue to live in the home. The FHA insurance guarantees HECM borrowers that the funds they expect to access from a reverse mortgage will be available to them, no matter what might happen to the lender from which they’ve obtained the loan.

HECMs are now primarily used by seniors to cover a monthly gap between income and living expenses, to pay for health care, cover home repair and maintenance costs, or to avoid foreclosures. Despite the obvious value of this financial product to America’s senior population, the most frequently heard complaint among people who did not take a reverse mortgage has been that the upfront costs were high. So HUD has responded by creating a variant on the standard HECM product that substantially lowers those costs.

In a telephone briefing to prepare industry participants for upcoming changes to the HECM program, HUD Deputy Assistant Secretary Vicky Bott shared the Department’s plans to implement a new variant of the product, referred to as the “HECM Saver,” that will provide seniors with a reverse mortgage option that significantly lowers upfront costs by virtually eliminating the upfront Mortgage Insurance Premium that is required under the standard HECM option. Bott also reported accompanying changes intended for the existing HECM product, now referred to as a “HECM Standard.” The introduction of the HECM Saver and changes to the HECM Standard are expected to be effective shortly after the new federal fiscal year begins this October.

The primary difference between the two HECM options will be in the cost of the upfront Mortgage Insurance Premium (MIP) and the amount of the funds, or “principal limit,” available to borrowers. The upfront Mortgage Insurance Premium is charged by the Federal Housing Administration to support its insurance fund. Under the HECM Standard option, the upfront MIP will remain at 2 percent of the value of the property, or 2 percent of the maximum FHA loan limit of $625,500, if the property has a value greater than that. HECM Saver will have an upfront MIP of only .01 percent of the property’s value, significantly reducing upfront costs.
This cost saving in upfront fees is able to be achieved because the amount of money available to a borrower, an amount known as the “principal limit,” under an HECM Saver will be reduced, substantially lowering the risk to the FHA insurance fund. Borrowers will receive approximately 10 percent to 18 percent less under the HECM saver option than they would under the HECM Standard option.

These changes, Bott explained, are “enhancements to make the program sustainable.”

The Village Cup Fills Up Again

September 23, 2010  
Filed under Business

By Phyl Newbeck

It was a win-win situation. After eight years, Kim Evans had decided it was time to sell the Village Cup, a café/bakery which had quickly become a Jericho institution. At the same time, Stephen Burke, slowly recovering from the death of his wife, Kathy Maguire, was looking for a new challenge. Burke had never worked in the food industry before, but that didn’t stop him from taking the plunge and purchasing the popular eating/meeting spot in November of 2008. In less than two years, Burke has made all kinds of improvements to what is now a hub of activity in Jericho Corners.

The 63 year old Burke is a native Vermonter who has lived in Underhill for more than twenty years. His wide-ranging background includes working as an export manager for a medical equipment company and running a paintball facility. The first thing Burke did after purchasing the Village Cup was survey his customers about their likes and dislikes. The questions were open-ended to ensure that customers could provide as much information as possible. This led him to create an improvement plan.

Burke set five goals: 1) maintain the café as a community meeting place and resource; 2) redesign the parking area; 3) rehabilitate the façade to maintain its historic integrity and create a welcoming and inviting gateway to the historic Jericho Corners Village District; 4) make the business more efficient and responsive to customer needs; and 5) maximize energy efficiency. Burke happily admits that he met his all his goals within his first eighteen months of owning the business.

Many changes are evident even before you walk through the door of the newly renovated 175-year-old structure which is listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings. The parking area has been enlarged and improved, and there are dedicated entrance and exit lanes into the business. A pedestrian path from the parking lot is separate from the travel lanes. The new handicap ramp is protected from the elements, and a covered porch wraps around the side of the building, offering customers a chance to watch the sun set in the west. Ceiling fans ensure the deck doesn’t get too warm in the summer.

Inside, other changes are also immediately apparent. The interior has been completely turned around so the serving counter now backs up against the kitchen. Previously, servers had to walk through the seating area to get food. The seating capacity has more than quadrupled to 87, including the outside seats, and there is a pellet stove in one corner of the room. The new floor plan takes advantage of a large window which looks out on a neighbor’s field. Several countertops with electrical outlets are provided for those who want to make use of the Village Cup’s WiFi.

Changes which are less evident to customers include added insulation, new windows and doors, an energy efficient walk-in cooler, water saving devices on the dishwasher, sinks and toilets, and a kitchen that has tripled in size. Efficiency Vermont estimates that the new improvements will save 12,000 kWh and over 2,500,000 gallons of water a year.

In addition to its signature pastries and coffees, Burke has added an evening bistro menu and weekend brunch to the café’s offerings. Brunch is prepared by Chef Joseph Ianelli of Richmond, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. Menu choices include a variety of omelets, eggs Benedict, Belgian waffles, stuffed French toast, paninis, wraps, and a weekly special. The more recent bistro menu expands the Village Cup’s hours to 8 p.m. with sliders, wraps, and flatbreads. In addition to the desserts visible in the display cases, there are special offerings including chocolate fondue.

There are more changes to come. Burke is renovating the first floor of the building adjacent to the Village Cup to serve as a more formal restaurant. Previous owners lived in that building, but Burke maintains his Underhill home. The restaurant, to be named Caroline’s in honor of Burke’s mother, is scheduled for a soft opening on Labor Day to be followed by a grand opening when all the pieces are in place. There will be some historical touches such as old photos and newspaper clippings in the entranceway, and both the maître d’s table and the wait station will feature antique cherry furniture. The style of the old windows was maintained, even as the single panes were replaced by better insulated glass. In addition to the main area, there are several smaller rooms and nooks including one intimate setting which has already been informally dubbed “the proposal room.” As with the rest of the Village Cup menu, Burke will continue to use local products like vegetables from Paul Mazza and beef from the LaPlatte farm.

Burke thinks the new restaurant will contrast nicely with the bistro. He sees the bistro as an informal, affordable place where friends might share food with one another, while the restaurant will be a fancier setting, priced accordingly. The parking lot will be further expanded for the additional clientele. Even before the restaurant opens, Burke expects an increase in visits since he has just procured a license to serve beer and wine. Prior to gaining the license, the Village Cup was seeing up to 300 people a day; some just dashing in for a take-out coffee and pastry and others whiling away the hours with a group of friends. “We still have a very strong community base here,” he said, “but there are more people coming in whom we’ve never seen before.” Receipts from July 2009 to May 2010 were up 224 percent, even though during much of that time the café was undergoing major renovations.

When Burke purchased the Village Cup there was one pastry chef and one all purpose chef. Burke has retained these two professionals, but added an executive chef, a sous chef, three line chefs and several part-time kitchen staffers, in addition to expanding the service staff. “We have someone capable of putting out a professional meal from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week,” he said.

Although the expansion means Burke is spending most of his time at the Village Cup, he isn’t daunted by the work. “It’s still fun.” he said, “It’s definitely keeping me busier than I anticipated but I don’t feel tired.”
Burke looks around his community and sees an active older crowd whom he would like to emulate; people like Underhill native Bob Northrop who hiked the Long Trail from end to end when he was 80. He thinks back to his own father who built a house in his 70s. “People who retire and don’t do anything are missing out on so much,” he said.  “I don’t see myself retiring any time soon. There’s an excitement here. People really like what we’ve done and that makes it worthwhile.”

Gallery 160 Chittenden County’s First INFO Site

September 23, 2010  
Filed under Business

Gallery 160, located at 160 East Main Street (Route 2) in Richmond, has become Chittenden County’s first authorized Vermont Ambassador INFO site.

This is a new program of the Vermont Dept. of Tourism & Marketing, leveraging willing businesses to assist the state’s many visitors. Local INFO sites will enhance the Vermont experience for the thousands of guests who come to the state each year. The availability of information off the interstate encourages people to travel more of the state’s smaller roads. The Official State Map tells people to look for the blue INFO signs to learn more about each area.

Commissioner of Tourism & Marketing, Bruce Hyde, announced, “It is great to have our first Ambassador INFO sign in Chittenden County up at Gallery 160 in Richmond. This is an excellent location for travelers to get information and directions to get around the area. My hope is we will see these INFO signs throughout the state where travelers can meet a friendly Vermonter who will provide maps, guidebooks, local information and provide a bathroom facility upon request.”

Gallery 160 is owned by husband and wife photographers, Scott and Kelly Funk. When asked why he was participating, Scott Funk said, “All of us in Vermont need to do our part to make every visit here a special one.”

2 forces fitness, a Holistic Lifestyle Coaching Practice, Opens in Chace Mill

September 23, 2010  
Filed under Business

Ian Ryan of Richmond recently opened 2 forces fitness, a Holistic Lifestyle Coaching Practice in the Chace Mill in Burlington.

Educated at the renowned C.H.E.K. Institute, Ryan’s training was comprised of cutting edge, clinically and scientifically based programs integrating corrective exercise, high performance conditioning and lifestyle and stress management.

Programs are individually designed following a thorough evaluation of the entire body – musculoskeletal, visceral, hormonal and emotional.  The goal is to bring all body systems back into alignment and balance using a variety of tools – nutrition, exercise, supplements, herbs, energy and soft tissue work.

“I’m about educating clients on their physical, mental and spiritual states and coaching them in nutrition and lifestyle habits as a therapeutic tool for maintaining and restoring health and wellness,” Ryan said.

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